Kelowna Rockets captain Rodney Southam congratulates Seattle captain Matthew Barzal on the Thunderbirds series win in the WHL’s Western Conference final. -Image credit: Warren Henderson/Capital News

Rockets’ season halted at hands of ‘Birds

Seattle scores 3-1 win over Kelowna Sunday to take Western Conference championship in six games

For the second straight spring, the Seattle Thunderbirds have put an end to the Kelowna Rockets’ season.

On Sunday at Prospera Place, the T-Birds downed the Rockets 3-1 to win the WHL’s Western Conference championship four games to two.

The Rockets opened the scoring on a first-period power play goal by Nolan Foote, but Seattle took over from there, scoring three unanswered goals and clamping down defensively the rest of the way to finish off the Rockets in six games.

Kelowna captain Rodney Southam not only commended the Thunderbirds for their series win but lauded his Rockets teammates for their effort in both the conference final and all season long.

“They played a great game, enough to put us out so congrats to them,” Southam said of the Thunderbirds who swept the Rockets a year ago in the Western Conference championship.

“It didn’t end the way we wanted but I was very proud of those guys, we worked our bags off all year, I thought we did a lot better than most people thought we were going to do, so I have nothing but good to say about the guys in that room.”

First-year head coach Jason Smith said the Rockets simply didn’t do what was necessary to extend the series to a seventh game.

“Obviously, it’s disappointing,” said Smith. “We didn’t quite play well enough to win the game. They’re a team that plays hard and competes every shift. You create breaks and good luck by grinding and playing hard and they did that.

“We didn’t play well enough to win.”

After Foote’s goal gave the Rockets a 1-0 lead through 20 minutes, Austin Strand and Alexander True, with goals 4 1/2 minutes apart in the second period put the Thunderbirds ahead to stay.

The Rockets looked like they may have some life when Calvin Thurkauf scored with just over six minutes left in the second period but the shot glanced off referee Steve Papp before going into the net and was disallowed.

Thunderbirds captain Matt Barzal scored an insurance goal less than a minute later, beating Michael Herringer with a wrist shot for his fifth of the playoffs.

Seattle, which outshot Kelowna 22-19, stymied the Rockets’ attack for much of the night, allowing just nine shots over the first two periods.

The Rockets defensive corps was also compromised when Devante Stephens left for good in the first period after being checked from behind by Keegan Kolesar.

Kelowna was already without rearguards James Hilsendager and Braydyn Chizen due to injury.

Kolesar received a major and game misconduct but the Rockets were unable to capitalize on the five-minute power play.

Click here for the game summary.

The Thunderbirds beat Kelowna in a sweep in last year’s Western Conference championship.

Seattle advances to the WHL final beginning next weekend in Regina against the Pats. Regina prevailed in six games in the Eastern Conference final, defeating the Lethbridge Hurricanes 7-4 on Sunday night.